This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Only 1.2 percent of local health care workers tested in May for current or past infections of COVID-19 had confirmed cases of the coronavirus illness, the University of Louisville announced Friday.  

The study involved 1,372 workers in the U of L Health system. It found that two people tested positive for the disease. Another 14 others had positive tests for COVID-19 antibodies, signifying they had previous infections.

Researchers said the results, the first from an ongoing project meant to gauge the true spread of the disease in Louisville, suggest that social distancing, the use of masks and other measures in hospitals are working.

“To me, it seems like good news that we have been able to – at least in some sense – contain the spread of the virus and stem the infection at least within our health care workers,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the university’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute.

Another round of tests for health care workers will happen in four to six weeks to see whether the “infection is going up or down,” he said.

Bhatnagar said few studies of health care workers exist, but he noted that a German study recently found that about 1.6 percent of workers in that country who dealt with COVID-19 patients tested positive for the virus’ antibodies.

The research results announced Friday were limited to health care workers at U of L facilities, including U of L Hospital, Jewish Hospital and other outpatient centers. Bhatnagar said doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants and others participated; they also disclosed details about their work.

He said that data is still being reviewed.

“Once we do the analysis we will be able to tell whether there are certain sort of high-risk areas within the hospital and high-risk professions within the health care workers who are more likely to be exposed,” he said.

Tests also were conducted on health care workers in the city’s other two large hospital networks, Baptist Health and Norton Healthcare. Those results haven’t yet been released.

For now, the study doesn’t address whether people with COVID-19 antibodies have immunity from new infections, “although we may discern that in the subsequent rounds of testing,” said Kenneth Palmer, director of U of L’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at the Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases.

A separate study has been testing for active infections and COVID-19 antibodies of the larger Louisville community. The work initially was meant to be a random sample across Jefferson County, but Bhatnagar said researchers asked for volunteers after a mail campaign got low responses from western and southern Louisville.

In all, he said, about 3,000 people will have participated when the work wraps up today. Results are expected in a week to 10 days.

Researchers from U of L and Arizona State University also are testing wastewater from across the city in an effort to detect the spread of COVID-19.

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